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China Daily

HongKong> Opinion> Content
Monday, February 03, 2020, 11:08
Virus outbreak exposes our real public enemies
By Tony Kwok
Monday, February 03, 2020, 11:08 By Tony Kwok

Tony Kwok says that opposition has no interest in public health, but is keen on instilling fear, hatred

One common disquieting sight in the current coronavirus crisis in Hong Kong is the long line of people outside pharmacies desperate to buy face masks, only to find that prices had been increased severalfold by unscrupulous operators. And there are rumors that some pharmacies even sold secondhand masks! Why should we allow these black merchants to exploit a public health crisis? Clearly, they are our public enemy and should be dealt with accordingly. Perhaps we should learn from Beijing, where recently a pharmacy selling a box of 10 face masks at the inflated price of 850 yuan (US$123) was fined 3 million yuan! I am sure the government will be able to source adequate face masks for our needs, but unfortunately, it has failed to convey this convincingly enough to the public to stave off panic buying.

In order to cope with the crisis, the SAR government has taken the drastic action of shutting down all high-speed trains, all cross-border ferry services, and cutting by half the number of flights from the mainland, as well as the number of cross-border buses on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge. The central government also agreed to stop issuing individual travel visas to Hong Kong from 49 mainland cities. So far, the border control has been effective in turning away some 1,600 Hubei residents and non-Hong Kong residents who have visited the province in the past 14 days. As of Friday, there had been only 12 confirmed cases in Hong Kong, mostly discovered through the electronic temperature screening at the border control points. All in all, the measures taken by the government appear to be prompt and effective.

However, the opposition political parties, as usual, are never satisfied, and demanded a complete shutdown of all border crossings and a blanket ban on mainland people entering Hong Kong. It should be noted that at the moment, over 70 percent of the people passing through border checkpoints are Hong Kong residents, including many who are married to a mainlander, and hence there is a need for them and their mainland partners to travel to Hong Kong to look after their children or sick partners. There are also mainlanders who are students at Hong Kong universities, and mainland businesspeople who invested in Hong Kong enterprises. If these businesspeople are not allowed to enter Hong Kong, chances are that they might consider shutting down their Hong Kong operations, which would lead to the unemployment of Hong Kong people. In short, a complete shutdown of borders is impractical and undesirable. Indeed, a complete shutdown can achieve the desired result only if we also ban the importation of vegetables and foodstuff from the mainland, in case they are contaminated. Even during the SARS crisis in 2003, we did not implement a complete shutdown of our borders. So let us take all reasonable precautions, but not overreact to our own detriment.

Quite clearly, the opposition parties are not really interested in public health or the economy of Hong Kong. They are just exploiting the coronavirus crisis to further their political objectives. While the rioting is losing steam, and the blackshirts are losing numbers due to successful law enforcement and diminishing public support, the opposition parties wanted to use the crisis to continue to instill fear and hatred among Hong Kong people against the mainland, to extend their successful District Council election strategy to the coming Legislative Council election, and fulfill their ultimate aim of separatism.

According to international media reports, the US is considering banning all flights to and from China on the pretext of protecting the country from an invasion of the virus. But it is more likely that the US is taking the opportunity to gang up with its allies to isolate China so as to hurt its economy. Again, our opposition political parties are happy to be a pawn of Washington, and we can now understand why they are pushing so hard for a complete border closure.

The worst are the newly established Hospital Authority staff associations, formed during the recent riots. They all have affiliations with the opposition political parties, and they are now very vocal in demanding the complete shutdown of borders and even have threatened to strike should the government refuse to accede to their demands. Already on Wednesday, about 90 nurses in three government hospitals were found to have jointly taken sick leave. Clearly, they cannot all be sick simultaneously; it was nothing more than a thinly disguised threat against the government. What they failed to realize is that taking a false sick leave is a criminal offense. There was a classic case in the Independent Commission Against Corruption in which the ICAC carried out an internal investigation to check on one of its own staff members alleged to have taken false sick leave. She was prosecuted and sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment. Hence, I found the Hospital Authority spokesman’s statement on the mass sick leave most inappropriate in that he tried to water down its effect on public health services. He should have admonished these nurses instead and undertaken to carry out an internal investigation with a view to refer the case to the ICAC for criminal proceedings.

The medical employees who have taken sick leave should really be ashamed of themselves. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, the Hong Kong medical employees won the world’s admiration for their sense of mission and bravery, particularly when compared with Taiwan, where many medical employees were seen jumping out of hospital windows to shirk their hazardous professional duties. They should also learn from their counterparts on the mainland, where over 50 groups of voluntary medical teams from outside Hubei province flocked to Wuhan to assist. Then we saw the most-respected Dr Zhong Nanshan, a prominent expert in respiratory diseases and a hero in the 2003 SARS in Guangzhou, now 84 years old but diving directly into the outbreak in Wuhan to offer expert advice. Some commentators have rightly observed that these Hong Kong young nurses are cut from the same cloth as the blackshirts and other violent young activists, all lacking ethics and moral upbringing, thanks to the failure of our education system in the last 20 years.

Piling on more pressure against the government, blackshirts have detonated bombs at the Caritas Medical Centre, the Shenzhen Bay checkpoint, and other strategic locations. A group on Telegram claimed responsibility, saying it did so to force the government to close all borders. It launched an appeal for a total strike on Jan 29 and threw objects on railways and roads to disrupt traffic. It warned that if the government fails to respond to its demands within two days, it would destroy all railways and roads to the mainland! Quite clearly, it is now a terrorist group in every sense of the word, and the only way to deal with it is to arrest and prosecute its members to the fullest extent of the law.

One of the greatest concerns now is the effect of the recent judgment by two High Court judges, Anderson Chow Ka-ming and Godfrey Lam Wan-ho, who ruled that the anti-mask law is unconstitutional and incompatible with the Basic Law, and that the government does not have the power to impose emergency regulations. Sadly, the Court of Final Appeal refused to suspend the judgment pending appeal. Hence, the government is now unable to make any emergency regulations that may be necessary to tackle the current health crisis. For example, the government may consider making it obligatory for all citizens to wear face masks in all public transportation, which could be an effective way to reduce the risk of virus transmission in crowded places. The Court of Appeal must urgently reinvest the government’s authority to impose emergency regulations, or else the court’s judges themselves will become the No 1 public enemy!

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

The author is an adviser with Our Hong Kong Foundation and council member of the Chinese Society of Hong Kong and Macao Studies. He is also a former deputy commissioner of the ICAC.

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